Sunday Malaise

I have a long-form essay published in the latest issue of the Connotation Press, an online literary magazine. You can read the story here. The piece includes reflections about my paternal grandmother, Amelia.

My grandmother Amelia sitting in her kitchen.

My grandmother Amelia sitting in her kitchen.

And in working on the essay, I did some research about Sundays that I did not include in the final edit of the piece. I found the information interesting, and so I am posting it here:

Many people have shared with me their contempt for Sundays, and there seems to be no shortage of psychiatric literature referring to a “Sunday neurosis” or a feeling of gloom related to the day.

Hungarian psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi, who died in 1933, is believed to have originated the term “Sunday neuroses.” In his book Further Contributions to the Theory and Technique of Psycho-Analysis (1927), Ferenczi wrote:

“I treated several neurotics the history of whose illness, recounted spontaneously or reproduced during the analysis, contained the information that certain nervous conditions developed—mostly in youth—on a certain day of the week, and had then regularly recurred.

Most of them experienced these periodic returns of the disturbances on Sundays. They were mostly headaches or stomach disturbances that were wont to appear on this day without any particular cause, and often utterly spoilt the young people’s one free day of the week.”

Ferenczi, Sandor. Further Contributions to the Theory and Technique of Psycho-Analysis. New York: Boni and Liveright Publishers, 1927.

Ferenczi states that on Sundays people are “free from all the fetters that the duties and compulsions of circumstances impose upon us.” As a result, we feel an inner liberation and repressed instincts are set free.

But he writes, “the neurotically disposed will be inclined just on such occasions to a reversal of affect, either because he has much too dangerous impulses to control which he must guard closely, particularly when tempted by the bad example of others; or because his hypersensitive conscience will not overlook even little omissions.”

In a sense, a person is given too much freedom on Sundays and this lack of control can produce anxiety.

A clearer line of thought regarding Sunday neurosis comes from Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997). Frankl was the founder of logotherapy and existential analysis. He referred to a prevailing “existential vacuum” occurring in the 20th century, often manifesting itself in a state of boredom. His theory, outlined in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, addressed feelings of discontentment on Sundays:

“Let us consider … “Sunday neurosis,” that kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.”

Frankl, Viktor E., Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press, 1959.

Looking to literature, one character who seems to epitomize this existential vacuum is Meursault, Albert Camus’ protagonist from the 1942 novel The Stranger.

Albert Camus

Albert Camus

In chapter two of the book, Meursault wakes up on a Sunday morning after his lover Marie has left his room. His thoughts turn to the day of the week:

“I remembered it was a Sunday, and that put me off; I’ve never cared for Sundays.”

Meursault spends the day inside his flat, accomplishing nothing except passing time. He fries some eggs and eats them out of the pan, reads an old newspaper and later goes out on the balcony to observe the activity on the main street of the district. He sees a family dressed in “their Sunday best” taking an afternoon walk.

He smokes cigarettes and watches as night falls, the street lamps flickering on and the stars glimmering. Meursault eats his spaghetti dinner standing up and then closes the window when he feels a chill. His thoughts seem to reflect the mundane nature of Sundays: “It occurred to me that somehow I’d got through another Sunday, that Mother now was buried, and tomorrow I’d be going back to work as usual. Really, nothing in my life had changed.”

##

Two large-scale European studies have documented that some people experience the doldrums on Sundays.

In a 2009 study, Alpaslan Akay and Peter Martinsson from the Department of Economics at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden analyzed subjective well-being related to the day of the week. The researchers used the German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP), a large panel data set consisting of thousands of interviews over a twenty-year period, to come up with their findings.

Participants were asked: “How satisfied are you at present with your life, all things considered?” Zero indicated a person was completely dissatisfied and ten meant the subject was completely satisfied.

In the study, titled “Sundays Are Blue: Aren’t They? (The Day-of-the-Week Effect on Subjective Well-Being and Socio-Economic Status),” Akay and Martinsson reported “Sunday is the bluest day in Germany”—the day when “individuals on average report the lowest level of subjective well-being.”

They also found that weekends result in lower subjective well-being than weekdays.

A 2014 study published in the journal Applied Economics, “Rhythms and Cycles in Happiness,” examined time-dependent rhythms in happiness. The researchers from the University of Hamburg, Germany, also relied on data from the German Socio-Economic Panel, and determined that “the Sunday neurosis exists exclusively for men with a medium level of education and both men and women with high levels of education.”

Maennig, M. Steenbeck, M. Wilhelm. “Rhythms and Cycles in Happiness.” Applied Economics, 46(1), 2014: 70-78.

So is there a reason why some people experience the Sunday blues? Is there something inherent about Sunday that makes people unhappy? Does anxiety about the impending work week spur a feeling of disillusionment on Sundays?

One plausible explanation for the Sunday blues could be tied to relationship status. Sunday is traditionally a day set aside for family activities: attending church, doing yard work, eating a relaxing Sunday brunch or visiting a park or a lake. Hence, do the unattached feel disconnected from the rest of society on Sundays?

In her book Alone in America: The Search for Companionship (1986), Louise Bernikow reported on the loneliness experienced by single professional women on Sundays. Bernikow interviewed Houston psychotherapist Ellie Chaikind. Chaikind stated that her female patients described how Saturdays would be filled with domestic chores and “catching up,” while Sundays loomed “like a nightmare in the week.” Chaikind said the women would try to occupy their Sundays by doing activities like going to a bookstore or to a library.

Bernikow, Louise. Alone in America: The Search for Companionship. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

Bernikow also interviewed a woman named Sally, an agent in the film business in Los Angeles. Sally told Bernikow she would work on a project to fill up her time or spend the weekend reading to help her forget about feeling lonely. But she stated, “Sunday nights are the worst.” Bernikow writes that for women like Sally, “it seems the rest of the world is hooked up and only the lonely person is floating free.”

##

And I will leave you with a short poem about the Sunday blues:

Sunday Malaise

The August sunlight
entering the room
cannot quell
the dreary feeling that
overcomes me every Sunday.
Lying in my bed,
listening to Brahms,
while trying to take a nap
to fill the afternoon.
Waking up later,
the room shrouded in darkness,
with the day erased,
bringing me hours closer
to Monday morning,
and a reset of the week—
safe from harm:
Sunday still far away.

##

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